Expunging Criminal Records in Pennsylvania
Summary Offenses. Pennsylvania has three basic classifications of convictions (summary offenses, misdemeanors, and felonies). A summary offense is any minor crime, initially heard and decided by a district justice. Many violations of the Motor Vehicle Code, such as speeding, illegal parking and going through a red light, are summary offenses. Non-traffic summary offenses can include disorderly conduct, underage drinking, harassment, criminal mischief and first offense shoplifting.
Misdemeanors. A Misdemeanor is a middle classification of crime, representing less serious offenses than felonies. Pennsylvania law recognizes three degrees of misdemeanors. A third degree misdemeanor can carry a sentence of 6 months to one year imprisonment and a fine of up to $2,500. Examples of third degree misdemeanors (i.e. M3) include harassment, trespass, disorderly conduct, loitering and prowling, or selling liquor to minors. A second degree misdemeanor can carry a sentence of one to two years imprisonment and a fine of up to $5,000. Examples second degree misdemeanors (i.e. M2) include simple assault, reckless endangerment, manufacture or sale of false identification, false reports to law enforcement authorities. Finally, examples of first degree misdemeanors (i.e. M1) include possessing instruments of a crime, terroristic threats, indecent assault, endangering the welfare of children, or bookmaking
Felonies. Outside of Murder offenses, felonies represent the most serious crimes. Like misdemeanors, Pennsylvania law recognizes three degrees of felonies. A third degree felony (i.e. F3) can carry a term of imprisonment up to seven years and carry a fine of up to $15,000. Examples of third degree felonies include stalking, interference with the custody of children, concealment of the whereabouts of a child, arson-reckless burning, criminal mischief, trespass, or robbery. A second degree felony (i.e. F2) can carry a term of imprisonment up to ten years and a fine of up to $25,000. Examples of second degree felonies include home improvement fraud, aggravated assault, sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, and forgery. A first degree felony (i.e. F1) can carry a term of imprisonment that exceeds ten years and a fine of up to $25,000. Examples of first degree felonies include assault upon a law enforcement officer, kidnapping, weapons of mass destruction, Rape, and Burglary.
Expungement. An expungement of a criminal record is a proceeding to remove reference to a prior criminal conviction. Typically, expungements are sought to clear a person’s background for employment purposes or to allow them to purchase a firearm. When an expungement is granted, the record will appear as if no conviction ever occurred. In general, misdemeanors and felonies cannot be expunged in Pennsylvania. Indeed. Only expungement of misdemeanors and felonies can be achieved only when the individual is at least 70 years old and has been free from arrest for period of ten years or that individual has been dead for at least three years. 18 Pa.C.S. § 9122(b)(1&2). Summary offenses, on the other hand, are capable of expungement. To qualify, the individual must be free from conviction for five years following the subject conviction. 18 Pa.C.S. § 9122(b)(3). Additionally, juvenile offenses are also subject to expungement provided the individual is at least 18 years old and five years has lapsed without any misdemeanors or felonies. 18 Pa.C.S. § 9123. Of course, acquittals and dismissals are also subject to expungement.
Proposed Expungement Legislation. On February 12, 2013, the Senate Branch of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly introduced an amended bill that would broaden the range of expugnable offenses to now include certain misdemeanor offenses. SB 391 proposes to allow misdemeanors of the third degree to be expunged provided that the individual has been free of arrest for at least seven years. The proposed bill also would allow expungement for misdemeanors of the second degree provided that the individual has been free of arrest for at least ten years and provided that the individual was younger than 25 at the time of the offense.